It was a quick but very memorable trip to Iceland, an island of ice and fire (photo, Ice Island). The country is home to around 300,000 people, half of them living in and near the capital city of Reykjavik. We joked about flying for seven hours to see a city a size of Ballard, Seattle’s Scandinavian neighborhood.
The flight to Reykjavik (photo, More Ice and Water) is the shortest trip we have done from Seattle to any European city, not much longer than a nonstop cross-country flight. Nestled under the snow-covered flat top mountain, the city's name means Smoky Bay, though by us it is practically smoke-free. More than 80% of the country's energy is generated from geothermal and hydropower. As we can see the national flags in front of every government office buildings in downtown, it has three colors, the dark blue background symbolizing ocean, a red cross lined with white, which represents the endless volcanoes and grand glaciers. Our hotel is completely smoke free too!
We noticed the people of Iceland are generally pale with fair skin, blond hair and light blue eyes. They seem to have a rather small gene pool, just about everyone looks like that, a homogeneity rare for European cities. It is hard to imagine conducting daily life in the harsh conditions here, where summers see no night and winters see no light, eight months of the year below the freezing point. But God was fair and thoughtful to give them so many thermals and hot springs to keep them from freezing to death.
We took a Golden Circle bus tour to see the famous Geysir and Gullfoss waterfall, just an hour's drive outside the capital. At Geysir we learned that the Icelandic name for this place has become the English word for these explosive springs. It was indeed very impressive. The thermal pools keep boiling and spray up the hot spring water (photo, geyser) anywhere between 5 feet to 20 feet. The Gullfoss (photo, Waterfall) waterfall was very powerful as well. Our guide Hasse was quite knowledgeable and gave us a lot of introductions and explanations of the natural beauty as well as the history, saga and culture to us. He is justifiably very proud of his country and heritage. He went on to show us the country’s oldest parliamentary meeting place, an open natural amphitheater space underneath a rocky wall (photo, Parliament Meeting).
The next day, we purchased they day-long city bus pass to ride around the city, first to downtown along the harbor (photo, harbor) to see the City Hall, the Tjornin Lake (photo, The Pond), the theatre and National Gallery (photo, Pond from other side). Then we spent the early afternoon visiting the National Museum. It is brilliantly designed and presented, very interactive and modern. There is a record of a school in the mid 19th century where people gathered and lived together educating themselves with the help of the church. We enjoyed the weekly menu, 21 meals listed, with dry fish featured in each and every meal. Fish is about the only thing that is comparatively cheap here, even today. We bought ourselves a couple of tubes of caviar in the local market,looking just like toothpaste but tasting quite delicious. We rode the local bus to the famous Laugar Spa, a giant sports and recreation compound where the typical Icelandic spa is well illustrated. There are three steaming bath saunas set to different temperatures and aromas, three dry saunas from 120 to 230 degrees F, several pools, also in different temperatures in between. We took three hours to experience most of them, ending with jumping into an icy cold water tank right out from a 230 degree bake. Then, back to the hotel, the both of us soft as noodles and dog tired.
Our third day was scheduled to be a full day tour of the south coast to see more waterfalls, glaciers and black lava sand with special rock formations. But early in the morning, the hotel desk informed us the trip was canceled due to the sudden volcanic eruption out of the glacier on the way of the tour. The road was closed and 500 residents evacuated. Instead of sitting on the bus, we sat in our hotel room watching television showing the impressive red glow out the silver glacier. What a luck we have had here.
Our last day was scheduled to first visit the world-renowned Blue Lagoon before heading west to the airport to fly home. In the morning on the way to our breakfast, we saw the lobby full of worried looking passengers, and found out that the ground maintenance crews at Keflavik International Airport were on strike, nothing actually to do with the weekend volcano eruption. We were told the government was stepping in and negotiations to end the strike intensifying by the hour. We checked out and put our luggage on the bus, which took us to the Blue Lagoon, a natural wonder. The water’s temperature is 37-39°C / 98-102°F. The lagoon holds six million liters of geothermal water (2/3 seawater and 1/3 freshwater), which is renewed every 40 hours. Silica, minerals and algae are the basic ingredients of the unique white mud produced in the lagoon. This magic mud is believed to have anti-aging, rejuvenating powers. Barbara took a massage which happened entirely in the water and felt great (photo, in the Blue Lagoon). Coming out of the spa, we found the airport update was the top news all over and the receptionist constantly advising the soakers what flights were being scheduled and their departure times. By the time we left the lagoon, it was still not clear whether we would be taking off. Nevertheless we arrived to the airport as if we were going to go home on time. Luckily within one hour, the strike was over and our flight ended up leaving only a couple of hours late. We considered ourselves very lucky, if we only knew the same Eyjafjallajökull Volcano erupted within a month, and caused so much bigger problem for the European air traffic.
Altogether, have to say it was way too short a visit. We would definitely like to come back again.